Raising Modern Hindu Children Overseas: A perspective

Nothing is more scrutinized, criticized, debated or written about as parenting today. The world appears to obsess around raising the perfect generation and that has given rise to an entire ecosystem of child welfare ministries to specialists, pediatric nutritionists, therapists, pedodontics, psychiatrists. And yet 10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide are afflicted with mental disorders. The challenges and complexities of modern societies has only compounded the anxiety levels of parenting. At times of intense stress and confusion it is only prudent to fall back on the wisdom of our ancestors.

Followers of major world religions have clear guidelines with prescribed do’s and don’ts which at times also include the diet and attire. Hinduism, diverse as it is, is seen as a ‘way of life’ with no specific instructions nor any stringent process to follow. However, there are common parameters that cuts across caste, creed and even geography. Hindus despite worshipping several Gods understand they are but a manifestation of a single Brahman. Preference to a single deity (Ishta Devta) does not require a Hindu to disbelieve the rest. Along with a strong belief in the principles of Karma and reincarnation Hindus are set in the path of seeking self-liberation or moksha.

With people moving out of smaller towns into cities in India and those from cities moving to global destinations the traditional Indian family system is undergoing rapid changes. Toddlers and kids are being raised either in daycare or by maids. Growing children are spending more time online in social media and video games. While none of these generational changes can be reversed or wished away, Hindu parents can create a safety net for their children to remain connected to their civilizational roots while traversing the modern times with more confidence and ease.

So, where does one start?

Several learned Gurus and Swamiji’s of Hinduism, in their infinite wisdom, have suggested few basic tenets for Hindus to anchor their lives on. The three foundational tenets are Sloka, Sanskara and Seva. The good news is most Hindu families would be following one or more of these in their own unique way. The culture heritage and societal structure in India is designed in a way that children inevitably pick up these attributes either from school, peers or the community at large. These can be strengthened by consciously incorporating them within the family lifestyle. Celebrating festivals like Ganesha Chathurthi, Deepavali, Holi and nurturing traditional art forms like Bharatnatyam, classical music are innovative ways to impart Indic knowledge to the next generation.

Sloka: Sloka is the Sanskrit word for poetic verse, proverb, hymn uses a specific meter. Most of the famous Indian epics including the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita are written in sloka format. Most Hindu families irrespective of caste and creed recite slokas as prayers. Many schools have slokas as a part of their morning prayer. The western world has recently woken up to the benefits of chanting, which apart from a number of other benefits reduces anxiety and depression.

Hinduism has a near infinite repository of Slokas and mantras. It is replete with slokas that range from philosophical, esoteric, motivational, to ecology or that gives practical advice and direction to young questioning minds. Parents of young children can start the practice of reciting a few easy slokas and mantras every day. Over 60 percent of vocabulary of Indian languages are said to originate from Sanskrit so with time the meanings of the slokas will become clearer and Sanskrit words would become easier to recite. Many slokas are set to melodious tunes and can be sung making it easier for kids to learn.

Sanskara: This is a broad term with no exact definition of what all entails as Sanskara or culture for a Hindu. Lighting a lamp every evening to a deity is Sanskaram, so it is to touch the feet of elders and seek ashirvadam or blessings. Sanskara is when you teach your child to see the divine manifested in everything from the innate to the most respected. Sanskara cannot be taught but is only emulated and it needs to be inculcated before it is passed on. As with everything in Hinduism there are several meanings, explanations, and stories. It is prudent to always explain the reasoning behind each action, so the lesson becomes memorable. When my father explained the significance of applying the vibhuti or sacred ash on the forehead, I no longer resented sporting it. He gave a simple explanation of how the vibhuti is a constant reminder of the temporariness of life and how we need to make the best use of our time on earth. It instills a sense of purpose in our life and serves as a visual cue to not take anything for granted. If actions can be reasoned with logic, philosophy or rationale it would become easier to address the doubts of inquisitive children.

Seva – Seva or service is an important facet in Hinduism but now finds more prominence in Sikhism and Buddhism. Its time Hindu children are taught the art of selfless service. In this age of instant gratification coupled with a sense of entitlement children do not understand what it is to give without getting something in return. Along with birthday celebrations parents can revive the tradition of offering Annadanam in temples and orphanages. Children should be encouraged to take up community and temple administration services.

Grooming children into responsible individuals is an important parental responsibility towards the society and towards the country. Individuals with strong Indic values will create a harmonious society with an appreciation for creation, an inherent quest for higher life purpose, willingness to contribute to the greater good, and making a positive impact on the world around. The basic step towards this begins at home.



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